Three months after protests occurred from North Central Building Trades labor unions and the United Auto Workers, work for the Academy Chrysler build in Tipton has moved from non-union labor to union labor.
In July, the North Central Building Trades and UAW held protests denouncing the use of non-local and non-union labor being used to build Academy Chrysler, which would sell union-made vehicles and be located across the highway from the FCA US Tipton Transmission Plant, a union factory. The unions took issue with that, while dealership owner Rex Gingerich said he instructed the general contractor for the site to use only local union labor. However, that wasn’t being done.
North Central Building Trades President Jamie Fife, while pleased at the change from non-union to union, said it shouldn’t have gotten to the point where unions had to protest.
“After things got to be talked about, yes, [Gingerich] wanted to make it right,” Fife said. “‘What could we do to make it right?’ Well, we had a meeting at for the building trades and invited Rex in. He promised us then that he would make it right, and he would finish it up union. And it kind of bothered me, and I let Rex know. I said, ‘It should have never got to this point.’ My concern was that you’re selling 100-percent union product, made 100-percent union, and you’re building this brand-new dealership across from the Tipton Transmission Plant, which is 100-percent union. And you’re doing it all non-union labor.”
Previously, Gingerich said the situation was a miscommunication. Gingerich, who also owns and operates McGonigal Buick GMC and Button Dodge-RAM in Kokomo, said he told the general contractor to use only local union labor for the entirety of the build, though it wasn't done. The protest occurred on July 21 and was organized in part by Mike Young, a business manager for IBEW 873. Unions from Fort Wayne, South Bend, Indianapolis, Columbia City, and the UAW in Kokomo came out in solidarity during the dealership protest.
“Honestly and truthfully, I want to thank my building trades, for all of my guys getting as involved into it as much as we did, but I also want to thank the UAW for their backing and support because they’re selling a UAW product,” Fife said. “I personally feel like if it wasn’t there for the UAW, I don’t know how far we would’ve gotten.”
Fife estimated around 40 to 60 percent of the build had been completed by non-union labor before change came about for his members.
Despite the delay, there’s been a silver lining. Since the switch, and because of similar promotions for the use of local labor he has been a part of, Fife said more people are seeking union contractors.
“You’d be surprised,” Fife said. “The word gets out like with this dealership. I’ve got out-of-town people calling me now saying, ‘Hey we’ve got something in the mall, but we want to do it union. Do you have a list of contractors for us?’ And obviously I give them a list of our contractors to go look at the work and bid the work or whatever. It’s getting around. If you look at Kokomo, and I don’t know percentage-wise, it’s pretty much a union town. If you shut the unions down in Kokomo, I think you’ll see tumbleweeds through the streets.”